Protecting yourself from identity theft

AVOIDING IDENTITY THEFT

  1. Do not disclose your full nine-digit Social Security number unless absolutely necessary, and never use it as an identifier or password. Question those who ask for it.
  2. Avoid paper billing by requesting secure electronic statements instead. If you require hard copies, you can print and store them safely without risking mail theft.
  3. Lock your mailbox.
  4. Shred documents containing personal information (name, account numbers, social security number, birth date) before throwing them away. 
  5. Configure your computer and/or smartphone to require a password for use, and set another password for sensitive files. Use unique passwords that include a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. Do not use your birth date, a close relative's birth date, or a combination of letters and numbers on Splashdata's annual list of the most stolen passwords.
  6. Avoid using the same password for different accounts, and change your passwords once or twice per year.
  7. Install and update antivirus, anti-malware, and security programs on all computers, tablets, and smartphones.
  8. Don’t disclose information commonly used to verify your identity on social networking sites, such as date of birth, city of birth, mother’s maiden name, name of high school, etc. If you do, don't use that information to verify your identity.
  9. Avoid making purchases, paying bills, or sending sensitive information over unsecured WiFi networks (at airports, coffee shops, or hotels).
  10. Disable Bluetooth connections on devices when not in use.
  11. Watch out for “phishing” scams. Phishing is when identity thieves request personal information by pretending to be a legitimate entity, such as a bank or the IRS. Ignore unsolicited requests for personal information by email or over the phone, and only contact entities by means you know to be authentic. Do not contact an entity by clicking a link sent as part of an email requesting personal information, because phishers often link to authentic-looking, fake webpages. You can also call the phone number on the back of a card previously issued to you, or call the phone number on an old statement from that issuer. 
  12. Fight “skimmers.” Do not give your debit card to a server or anyone who could have a hand-held skimming device out of sight. When using an ATM, look for suspicious cameras and holes, and touch to confirm that extra parts have not been installed. Always cover your hand while hand typing a PIN, and avoid using ATMs in secluded locations.
  13. When accessing financial information on your smartphone, only use apps authorized by your bank or published by reputable app makers. Apps that show thousands of downloads are probably safe.

DETECTING IDENTITY THEFT

  1. Check your monthly statements for unauthorized charges.
  2. Sign up to receive email and/or text notifications of account activity and changes to account information.
  3. Get your free annual credit report. Every 12 months, you are entitled to receive one free credit report from each of the three main credit reporting agencies. Instead of requesting three at the same time, request one credit report from one of the agencies every four months. Verify that the information is correct, and an account has not been opened without your knowledge. Free credit reports are available online at AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228.

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU DETECT IDENTITY THEFT

Step 1: Notify your financial institutions.

If you discover that your wallet, checkbook, credit card or other sensitive information has been lost or stolen, immediately notify the issuing bank, credit card issuer, or relevant institution to close all existing accounts. 

Step 2: Get an Identify Theft Affidavit.

If you suspect identity theft, report it to the Federal Trade Commission using the online complaint form or by calling 1-877-ID-THEFT. When making the report, you will be given an option to receive an Identity Theft Affidavit. This document, together with the police report, will be critical to minimizing the damage.

Step 3: File a police report.

If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, file a report with your local police department. When you make the report, bring a copy of the Identity Theft Affidavit. The police report will be important for insurance purposes. Keep copies of the police report and Identity Theft Affidavit.

Step 4: Contact the three major credit reporting companies and place a fraud alert and security freeze on your accounts.

An important next step is to place a fraud alert and a security freeze on your credit report. Placing a fraud alert tells businesses checking your credit rating that there may be fraud involved in the account. The fraud alert must be renewed after 90 days, and it entitles you to receive one free credit report from each of the main agencies. The security freeze stops anyone from seeing your credit report without your permission. Alerts and freezes can be placed by contacting the toll-free fraud number of any of the three consumer reporting companies noted below. Initiating a credit freeze does not impact your credit score.

  • TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
  • Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
  • Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013

Step 5: If your social security number was stolen, contact the Social Security Administration.

File a report and access resources at www.idtheft.gov. You can also call 1-800-772-1213.

MORE IDENTITY THEFT RESOURCES

Issue updates

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

On Veterans Day, How The CFPB Helps Veterans, and All of Us | Ed Mierzwinski

Columnist George Will recently (and not for the first time) urged Congress to “abolish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.” His reasons may seem to come from his conservative philosophy, but merely pander to the powerful Wall Street interests that left our economy in ruins just a few years ago. As a counterbalance, let’s discuss some recent speeches and statements by CFPB Director Richard Cordray on his vision for the bureau and some of its current work, including – on this Veteran’s Day – its efforts to protect military families from financial predators.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Consumer Groups Commend CPSC Step Toward Eliminating Child Strangulations

We join leading child safety advocates to commend U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commisision (CPSC) staff for recommending that the commissioners accept our joint petition to consider adoption of a mandatory rule addressing window blind cord strangulations. At least 7 deaths have occurred in 2014; since 1996, window cord strangulations have resulted in at least 285 serious injuries or deaths.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Groups Applaud CPSC for Protecting Kids From Dangerous Magnets

U.S. PIRG and other consumer advocates, joined by pediatricians and pediatric gastroenterologists, today applauded the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) vote to address the hazards posed by high powered magnets.  Children who swallow two or more magnets are at risk of developing serious injuries such as small holes in the stomach and intestines, intestinal blockage, blood poisoning, and even death.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

We urge CFPB to add stories to complaint database | Ed Mierzwinski

While Congress gets the bulk of the news, a lot of the work in Washington is done by agencies writing rules or enforcing laws. The rulemaking process is a contentious battle, where powerful special interests mobilize thousands of lawyers and PR flacks to delay or kill efforts to protect consumer, worker and community health and safety or to make markets work. So, we fight back. Yesterday, we urged the CFPB to add consumer stories to its Public Consumer Complaint Database. We've also recently urged other agencies to take action, including asking the DOT to expand airline passenger rights and the FCC to protect a free and open Internet.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB, FTC Take Separate Actions Against Two Illegal Online Payday "Cash-Grab"Schemes | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday the CFPB and FTC announced separate actions against two online payday lenders running essentially the same alleged scam. Both "lenders" collected detailed consumer information from lead generation websites or data brokers, including bank account numbers, then deposited purported payday loans of $200-300 into those accounts electronically, and then collected biweekly finance charges "indefinitely,"

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Consumer Groups Commend CPSC Step Toward Eliminating Child Strangulations

We join leading child safety advocates to commend U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commisision (CPSC) staff for recommending that the commissioners accept our joint petition to consider adoption of a mandatory rule addressing window blind cord strangulations. At least 7 deaths have occurred in 2014; since 1996, window cord strangulations have resulted in at least 285 serious injuries or deaths.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Groups Applaud CPSC for Protecting Kids From Dangerous Magnets

U.S. PIRG and other consumer advocates, joined by pediatricians and pediatric gastroenterologists, today applauded the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) vote to address the hazards posed by high powered magnets.  Children who swallow two or more magnets are at risk of developing serious injuries such as small holes in the stomach and intestines, intestinal blockage, blood poisoning, and even death.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

We urge CFPB to issue safeguards for mobile financial services and privacy

We urge (along with the Center for Digital Democracy) the CFPB to issue rules so consumers can use mobile financial services without placing their privacy at risk or exposing themselves to new forms of predatory lending and other unfair practices. We filed a joint comment in response to a CFPB information request.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

U.S. PIRG’s Christine Lindstrom Testifies before U.S. Senate Banking Committee on Campus Debit Cards

U.S. PIRG Higher Education Program Director Chris Lindstrom testified before the Senate Banking Committee today on campus banking issues, private student loans and other issues concerning financial products on campus.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Report: Spirit Is Most Complained-About Airline

WASHINGTON – Spirit Airlines passengers are most likely to complain about their experience, according to a report released today by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. Among major airlines, Spirit generates the most complaints for its size and generates an increasing number of complaints each year. Other most-complained about firms include Frontier Airlines, United Airlines, and American Airlines.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Report | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

We Urge CFPB To Provide Mobile Financial Protections

Along with the Center for Digital Democracy, our co-investigator on a series of projects related to "big data" and financial opportunity, we've filed detailed comments to the CFPB regarding the need for strong consumer protections as more and more consumers use mobile financial services. We argue that "mobile technologies and services pose both opportunities and risks to consumers, their privacy, and to the kinds and price of services they are offered."

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

The Unfriendly Skies

Consolidation in the airline industry, along with pressures created by new security rules and the recent high cost of aviation gasoline, has changed the way we fly. It seems as if every consumer has an airline travel story—how they were trapped on the tarmac, tricked by fees, missed their connection, or lost their bag.

What many consumers don’t know is that they do have a number of new rights as well as a right to complain, both to the airline and to the government.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Debt Collectors, Debt Complaints

This is the fifth in a series of reports that review complaints to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state level. In this report we explore consumer complaints about debt collection, with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with debt collectors and documenting the role of the CFPB in helping consumers successfully resolve their complaints.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Credit Cards, Consumer Complaints

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was established in 2010 in the wake of the worst financial crisis in decades. Its mission is to identify dangerous and unfair financial practices, to educate consumers about these practices, and to regulate the financial institutions that perpetuate them.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2013

The 2013 Trouble in Toyland report is the 28th annual U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey of toy safety. In this report, U.S. PIRG provides safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

On Veterans Day, How The CFPB Helps Veterans, and All of Us | Ed Mierzwinski

Columnist George Will recently (and not for the first time) urged Congress to “abolish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.” His reasons may seem to come from his conservative philosophy, but merely pander to the powerful Wall Street interests that left our economy in ruins just a few years ago. As a counterbalance, let’s discuss some recent speeches and statements by CFPB Director Richard Cordray on his vision for the bureau and some of its current work, including – on this Veteran’s Day – its efforts to protect military families from financial predators.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

We urge CFPB to add stories to complaint database | Ed Mierzwinski

While Congress gets the bulk of the news, a lot of the work in Washington is done by agencies writing rules or enforcing laws. The rulemaking process is a contentious battle, where powerful special interests mobilize thousands of lawyers and PR flacks to delay or kill efforts to protect consumer, worker and community health and safety or to make markets work. So, we fight back. Yesterday, we urged the CFPB to add consumer stories to its Public Consumer Complaint Database. We've also recently urged other agencies to take action, including asking the DOT to expand airline passenger rights and the FCC to protect a free and open Internet.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB, FTC Take Separate Actions Against Two Illegal Online Payday "Cash-Grab"Schemes | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday the CFPB and FTC announced separate actions against two online payday lenders running essentially the same alleged scam. Both "lenders" collected detailed consumer information from lead generation websites or data brokers, including bank account numbers, then deposited purported payday loans of $200-300 into those accounts electronically, and then collected biweekly finance charges "indefinitely,"

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

We oppose merger between giants Comcast & Time Warner Cable | Ed Mierzwinski

Along with a number of state PIRGs, we have joined the Consumer Federation of America in a petition to deny the merger of cable/Internet giants Comcast & Time Warner Cable. The petition argues that the FCC must deny the merger, which would perpetuate unrestrained cable price increases, allow terrible service to deteriorate further and stifle innovation.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Wall Street launches "pants-on-fire" attack on CFPB | Ed Mierzwinski

The Financial Services Roundtable, a powerful Wall Street lobby that spends millions of dollars annually lobbying on behalf of its big Wall Street bank members has launched a deceptive social media campaign against expansion of the CFPB's successful public consumer complaint database. And like much of what you read on the Internet, most of what they say simply isn't true.

> Keep Reading

Pages

View AllRSS Feed

Support us

Your tax-deductible donation supports U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s work to educate consumers on the issues that matter, and the powerful interests that are blocking progress.

Learn More

You can also support U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s work through bequests, contributions from life insurance or retirement plans, securities contributions and vehicle donations.